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Justice Minister warns of fresh pubs crackdown if rules continue to be broken

Helen McEntee said scenes of busy streets around Dublin city bars over the weekend were ‘disappointing’.

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Justice Minister Helen McEntee said scenes of busy streets around Dublin city pubs over the weekend were ‘disappointing’ (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said scenes of busy streets around Dublin city pubs over the weekend were ‘disappointing’ (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said scenes of busy streets around Dublin city pubs over the weekend were ‘disappointing’ (Niall Carson/PA)

The Justice Minister has warned that the Government could be forced to re-introduce tougher restrictions on pubs if premises continue to breach health regulations.

Helen McEntee said scenes of busy streets around Dublin city bars over the weekend were “disappointing”.

However, she said the vast majority of pubs and restaurants are complying with the Covid-19 regulations.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said the full reopening of pubs on July 20 “could be delayed” if the rules are not adhered to.

Mr Martin said the majority of publicans are complying with the rules but said “there are breaches of the regulations” by some pub holders.

“There is an obligation on everybody to behave. Personal responsibility matters here,” he told Cork’s 96 FM.

We've seen some scenes over the weekend that were disappointingJustice Minister Helen McEntee

Pubs that serve food have been allowed to reopen since last Monday, while premises that do not serve food can reopen on July 20.

Ms McEntee spoke out after photographs and videos emerged on social media showing groups of people drinking on the streets in Dublin.

The minister said her department will “continuously review” powers given to the gardai to deal with licensed premises.

“I think to date the vast majority of citizens and business, whether it’s pubs or restaurants, have complied with regulations that were put in place as well as measures to not just protect yourself, but obviously protect people coming into their premises,” she said.

“Of course, we’ve seen some scenes over the weekend that were disappointing.

“I would ask and I would urge everybody to comply with public health regulations because we have come so far, we have made such great progress, and while we have been able to implement measures and bring them forward, what we don’t want is to have to re-implement any of these measures that we have now relaxed over the last while.

“It’s an issue that will be kept under review. I’ve a meeting with my Cabinet colleagues later on today and obviously we will keep engaged with the Commissioner if further measures are appropriate, perhaps proposals are needed for them.”

She made the comments following a meeting with Garda Commission Drew Harris at Slane Garda Station on Monday, in which they discussed a variety of issues.

Mr Harris said gardai carried out 6,000 visits of licensed premises across the country over the weekend.

He said that, while the vast majority were compliant, officers did find breaches of the Covid-19 health regulations as well as breaches of the licensing laws in a “minority of cases”.

“We also found a situation, which was highlighted in social media, on Dame Lane, where indeed that was a public order situation and was dealt with as such,” he said.

“If we see a situation, we have our powers to deal with that.

“We’ve submitted a report to Government on what we experienced over the weekend, and then we’ll see what would come from that following our further discussions with Government.

“But this is a situation that’s evolving in terms of the practice of licensed premises.

“We’re working with the licensees, we are asking them to be compliant, and the vast majority cases we are finding they are moving to a point of compliance.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said that all pubs should have been allowed to open at the same time.

If all the pubs had have been allowed to reopen at the same time, then I think we would have seen less of what we were seeing over the weekendPadraig Cribben, Vintners' Federation of Ireland

Padraig Cribben said: “We believe that all pubs should have been allowed to open at the same time for a number of reasons, one of which was there was a pent-up demand for people to get out after the lockdown.

“We now see about 45% of pubs open, with very big crowds trying to get back in.

“If all the pubs had have been allowed to reopen at the same time, then I think we would have seen less of what we were seeing over the weekend.”

However, he added that such scenes were “unacceptable” and condemned publicans for breaking the guidelines.

Mr Cribben said most pubs are sticking to the rules and those that are not should be shut down.

PA